I am not I.– Poem by Juan Ramón Jiménez. Translation by Oscar Bermeo.
I am the one
Who walks beside me without me noticing;
Who, sometimes, I go to visit,
And who, sometimes, I forget.
The one who is silent, still, when I speak,
The one who forgives, kindly, when I hate,
The one who travels where I have never been,
The one who will keep walking when I have died.
And that’s my first attempt at poetic translation. It’s not perfect – the third line is probably the hardest one to nail down – but you gotta start somewhere and this poem is as good a place as any considering the fine article Rachel Zucker has on Confessional Poetry. For me, the article really gets rolling towards the end since the beginning part of it has Ms Zucker going off on bad confessional poetry which almost turned me off since (cue the broad generalization theme music) everyone hates bad poetry. We all hate bad performance poetry, bad page poetry, bad lyrical poetry, bad protest poetry, bad published poetry, bad slam poetry, and on and on.
Mind you, it is easier to hate a poem whose merit is subjective over a poem whose merit is based on at least some tangible measure. Which brings us back to confessional poetry (and its cousin, political protest poetry) and the fact that far too often, the writer puts the audience on a very tenuous precipice- if you love the work then you are validating me as a writer but if you don’t like the work then you are invalidating my life experience.
At best, the above ultimatum comes from an insecure writer who is trying to make solid connections with an audience and resorts to their concrete point-of-views as a place to forge a connection. At worst, we have an egotistical ranter who is trying to force a simple solution on a complicated issue (Our kids need better teachers! The ghetto needs more government services! Cops are animals! War is wrong!) to a room full of sheep who are looking for someone to speak for them. Somewhere in the middle, you will find a whole bunch of folks who have a story and the desire to share that story to a listener who will pay them some mind and acknowledge it as a poem.
As for me, I’m just looking for good poems and my experience says most good poems are the product of editing which is one place the I needs to go to the curb for a minute. At least that’s the way I am interpreting Jimenez’s poem and a practice I need to continue brining to my own writing.
Yo no soy yo.
que va a mi lado sin yo verlo;
que, a veces, voy a ver,
y que, a veces, olvido.
El que calla, sereno, cuando hablo,
El que perdona, dulce, cuando odio,
el que pasea por donde no estoy,
el que quedará en pie cuando yo muera.
– Juan Ramón Jiménez